×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sherpas, Black Panthers & Patels: Some of 2015’s Best Documentaries

The holidays are fast approaching, as are awards deadlines. So it’s time for Oscar voters to catch up on some films — including documentaries.

In 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences expanded the best-picture race, which so far has included animated and foreign-language works. But no documentaries yet. Maybe this year can change things. Docs offer some of the best work being done, but they’re not always easy to find, with fewer screeners sent out.

For a look at the 124 docus eligible this year, see Variety’s special edition Nov. 10. Meanwhile, as awards voters try to catch up on 2015 contenders, think of this as a pledge drive with matching funds: For every narrative film you watch, try to see a documentary. Here are a few traditional films matched with docs, which can make for good binge viewing.

“Everest” and “Sherpa
Baltasar Kormakur’s film (with its great below-the-line work) concerns the tragic real-life expeditions in 1996. While that film centers on the tourists who pay big bucks to climb Mt. Everest, Jennifer Peedom’s docu “Sherpa” focuses on the people who climb Everest not for self-fulfillment, but for economic necessity. Westerners often use the word “sherpa” to describe someone who carries the bags, but Peedom looks at their strategic contributions to each climb, their culture and families. The 2013 events changed the course of the documentary, and Peedom and her team manage to shape a strong narrative, against overwhelming odds.
Bonus viewing: “Meru” directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, a docu about wall climbers on a different Himalayan mountain.

“Brooklyn” and “Meet the Patels
The films are very different in subject and tone, but have things in common. Aside from being two of the most charming and entertaining films of 2015, they explore family obligations and finding one’s own voice. John Crowley directed “Brooklyn,” while “Meet” was directed by Geeta Patel and her brother Ravi Patel, looking at their parents’ marriage and his search for a wife. It’s funny, touching and popular (it’s earned $1.5 million at the B.O., which is a lot for a documentary).
Bonus Viewing: “The Look of Silence,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s followup to “The Act of Killing.” The new documentary explores a devastating genocide in Indonesia; the heart of the film is a family trying to make peace with the murder of their relatives.

“South of Compton,” “The Black Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolution”
Both are dazzling filmmaking that look at the formation of two groups — one musical, the other political. F. Gary Gray’s film studies the 1989 birth of NWA. Stanley Nelson’s fascinating docu starts in 1966; both films smartly capture a specific time and place, with subjects that prove universal and and timely as both groups struggle with the police, the media and public perception.
Bonus viewing: “Peace Officer,” the docu from Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson which looks at a well-intentioned police system in Utah that goes very wrong.

“Trumbo” and “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words”
The Jay Roach-directed “Trumbo” focuses on one man during the Hollywood blacklist, a look at a socio-political phenomenon as seen through the screenwriter. Stig Bjorkman’s docu includes Bergman’s own years of blacklist, due to her offscreen romances, but the film also is an overview of the actress’ life. Bergman lived by her own rules, followed her instincts (which were often unconventional) and often paid a big price for her creativity and goals. She wasn’t a traditional mother, but her kids express affection because, as one says, “She was fun!”
Bonus viewing: “Song of Lahore,” directed by Sharpen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken. Politics and art collide again, in a film about musicians traveling from Pakistan to New York City.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Slam

    Film Review: ‘Slam’

    The disappearance of a fearless female Palestinian-Australian slam poet triggers suspense and powerful social and political commentary in “Slam,” an outstanding slow-burn thriller by expat Indian filmmaker Partho Sen-Gupta (“Sunrise”). Starring Palestinian actor Adam Bakri (“Omar,” “Official Secrets”) as the missing woman’s conflicted brother, and leading Aussie performer Rachael Blake as a troubled cop, Opening [...]

  • Igo Kantor

    Igo Kantor, Producer and Post-Production Executive, Dies at 89

    Igo Kantor, whose Hollywood career took him from Howard Hughes’ projection room to supervising post-production on “Easy Rider” and producing B-movies like “Kingdom of the Spiders” and “Mutant,” died Oct. 15. He was 89. Kantor, who was born in Vienna and raised in Lisbon, met “Dillinger” director Max Nosseck on the ship to New York. [...]

  • The Lion King

    Average Movie Ticket Price Falls 4% in Third Quarter of 2019

    Average ticket prices for the third quarter have dropped 4% to $8.93, down from Q2’s $9.26, the National Association of Theatre Owners announced today. However, compared with the third quarter of 2018, ticket price has risen 1.1% from $8.83. The summer box office is down 2.13% from 2018, though the third quarter box office is [...]

  • Tilda Swinton to Preside Over The

    Tilda Swinton to Preside Over Marrakech Film Festival

    Tilda Swinton, the iconoclastic British actress and producer, is set to preside over the 18th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival, succeeding to American director James Gray. Swinton, who won an Oscar and a BAFTA award for best supporting actress for “Michael Clayton,” has been leading an eclectic acting career. She has collaborated with [...]

  • The King Netflix

    Middleburg Film Festival Brings Hollywood to Virginia

    For the last seven years, audiences have flocked to the Middleburg Film Festival. Running October 17th – 21st, and situated in the wine-country hills of historic Middleburg, Virg., the festival usually highlights some of the year’s buzziest titles, and 2019 is no exception. “We’re a smaller festival with fewer overall screenings than other events, so we [...]

  • Kelly McCormick and David Leitch'Fast &

    'Wheelman' Director to Helm 'Versus' From David Leitch, Kelly McCormick (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Wheelman” director Jeremy Rush is in negotiations to helm the action movie “Versus,” with Kelly McCormick and David Leitch producing. Rush will direct the Universal movie from a script penned by “Three Musketeers” scribe Alex Litvak and “American Assassin” writer Mike Finch. Plot details are being kept under wraps, though it will follow the genre [...]

  • Taika Waititi Jojo Rabbit Premiere

    Why Director Taika Waititi Decided to Play Adolf Hitler in 'Jojo Rabbit'

    “Fox Searchlight blackmailed me into doing it,” Taika Waititi told Variety of playing Adolf Hilter in “Jojo Rabbit” at the film’s premiere at American Legion Post 43 on Tuesday night in Hollywood. Staying mum when asked which other actors had been on his wish list to play the role, Waititi explained why he eventually decided [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content